Occupational Therapy in Laudato Si

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is grounded in the belief that all people are worthy of moral treatment due to their innate worth and dignity. Every person is to be treated ethically, regardless of race, sex, gender, or socioeconomic status. Occupational therapists embrace those who are usually left in the shadows and are shunned because they may be perceived as “different.” Occupational therapy concepts have been put into practice since the 18th century, when those who were thought to have a mental disability were locked away. Society did not perceive them as important and simply wanted them put away so that we would not have to devote any of our energy to them. However, the true beginnings of occupational therapy began during World War I, when they therapists were called “Reconstruction Aids.” They worked with those who sustained injuries in combat and became disabled in some way. It was discovered that using one’s hand in their work made them physically and mentally healthier. Thus, the Reconstruction Aids worked with those clients by having them participate I small activities that encouraged them to use their hands. Thus, occupational therapy was born.

A core concept of Occupational therapy is holistic approach, which means that we address the whole person and take into consideration the uniqueness of every individual. They treat the individual, not simply the condition. An OT focuses on meaningful occupations, or activities, that will improve the client’s physical and mental state. The therapist first has to get to know the client so they can develop an occupational profile, and then come up with activities that meet their needs and appeal to them. There is no list of activities that a therapist can look up based on the condition because therapy is so individualized. Occupational therapists do tend to focus on activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting, and transferring. However, it goes beyond basic self-care and extends to all areas of life. Simple tasks that are important and engaging to the client are tailored to their needs and skills they need to work on. These simple tasks are repeated and changed so that over time, the client will develop te needed skills that the activity addressed. The self-reported quality of life of the client is the top priority, which is why they choose the occupations. If the client learns how to become reengaged in the occupations they love, they will report a higher quality of life because it is subjective.

Pope Francis and Laudato Si

Laudato Si: “Praise be to you”

Laudato Si was written by Pope Francis as an appeal to all, encouraging every single one of us to take action to protect our environment and all of creation. Laudato Si is translated to “Praise be to you”, meaning that the Pope is praising God for his beautiful creation. The Pope is thus taking on a role to defend this creation by speaking out against the harm we are inflicting on the Earth and all the living things. Throughout the text, he stresses the importance of relationships, focusing specifically on the environment, while also addressing our relationship with others and all living things. He states that we, as a society, are damaging the environment and consequently affecting future generations. Additionally, all the pollutants that we are putting in our air and water, without giving a second thought, are affecting the poorest in the greatest ways. The poor don’t have the resources to clean the water or the ability to move elsewhere that isn’t affected by factories. The future generations have no defense and later have to deal with the decisions we make now. Both of these groups are the most vulnerable, yet have no influence. Therefore, Pope Francis says that we need to act now in order to protect these people, who are God’s creation.

"Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world. Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also “macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones”.[156]

"Small gestures of mutual care"

Pope Francis makes a compelling argument and inspires the reader that they can make a difference, even though they are just one person. He encourages us to perform “small gestures of mutual care” (Pope Francis, 231). This means that we don’t need to go out and make radical changes in how we live our life. We can make a huge impact by striving to make small changes throughout our life. These small changes or actions in our everyday life will make a big difference because they will extend further than any individual would think. Choosing to recycle a straw will prevent it from ending up in the ocean, and potentially harm sea life. This mutual care is to be extended to all relationships we have, including macro- and micro-relationships. Micro-relationships include our friends, family, and strangers we see on the street. Macro-relationships refer to an social, economic, or political relationship on a larger scale. No act is too small, because repetitive small actions add up to make a bigger impact.

"In this way, the world, and the quality of life of the poorest, are cared for, with a sense of solidarity which is at the same time aware that we live in a common home which God has entrusted to us. These community actions, when they express self-giving love, can also become intense spiritual experiences." [232]

Quality of Life

Throughout the text, but also specifically, Laudato Si makes a note to address the quality of life of individuals. Pope Francis preaches that “In this way, the world, and the quality of life of the poorest, are cared for, with a sense of solidarity which is at the same time aware that we live in a common home which God has entrusted to us.” (Pope Francis, 232) Quality of life is a core concept of occupational therapy because we address the whole individual, including their mental state and happiness. Pope Francis is stressing that we care for all, but directly mentions the poor because they are often neglected. To address quality of life, again, big changes don’t need to be made. The important thing is to acknowledge the person and their innate dignity and worth. We all need to respect every person and what they value; relating this to occupational therapy, the OT needs to listen to the client and address what the person deems as important. By incorporating the client into the development of therapeutic interventions, therapists respect the individual and work on the meaningful occupations of the client. Addressing meaningful occupations will improve the individual’s quality of life because it allows the client to be engaged in what they deem as important and what will make their life fulfilling.

"We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good." [129]

Working together

Laudato Si emphasizes small acts, but it goes on to explain how we need to stand in solidarity in order to make an even bigger impact. Pope Francis, in paragraph 229, states “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good.” This statement aligns well with occupational therapy due to the instruction to be “good and decent” people everyone is worthy and deserving of being treated morally just. Pope Francis says that there’s been enough shallow concern for those who suffer, and that we need to act now. We all have a responsibility to care for those who suffer, rather than turning away and ignoring them. Occupational therapy turns towards those people and take on the responsibility to care for all because they are human.

Human Dignity

Laudato Si and Occupational therapy both relate to the Catholic Social Teaching of Human Dignity. Laudato Si supports this social teaching because it is instructing us to respect the worth and dignity of every person by taking action to protect them. We must all care for others because they are human and intrinsically valuable. According to Pope Francis, all persons must be treated ethically and valued for who they are. Occupational therapists act in accordance with this principle because we treat all, due to their innate value, and especially those who are shunned. OTs are not dismissing the needs for assistance and additional support of those who need it, but rather put all their efforts into working according to this principle.

Care for Creation

Care for God’s creation refers to everything, from the people and animals and all living things to the environment. Relating specifically to occupational therapy, we care for all people whom we treat. No one is looked at as more valuable than another and we do everything in our power to improve the individual’s abilities. OTs care for the person because they want to, and have no ulterior motive to why they do what they do. Laudato Si focuses more on care for the environment because God gifted it to us and we should protect it. When we harm the environment, we harm others and ourselves because everyone is affected to some degree.

Culture of Care

Laudato Si encourages the enactment of small gestures, but it places a special emphasis on solidarity. Solidarity is the act of various individuals standing together as one group, regardless of their differences, striving for the same goal. Changes can be made individually, but solidarity will allow those changes to be long-lived and have a greater impact. It is necessary to encourage solidarity, as occupational therapists, because it allows our clients’ human dignity to be respected. We are to advocate for our clients and to educate others about the need for a judgment-free environment that is centered around understanding. We need everyone’s support in order to initiate a culture of care. A culture of care would include an overall genuine concern and care for all other people. The care extended by occupational therapists carries over to others when we lead by example. It is necessary to persevere, even when others don’t, because if not us, then who? This parallels with Laudato Si because it encourages this “culture of care” and that we must begin the concern for our environment and all persons.


Pope Francis. 2015. Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home [Encyclical].

Chad Foster. (25 October 2012.) "Because of Occupational Therapy?" Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube https://youtu.be/Ud5Fp279g4Y

AOTA. (2018) About Occupational Therapy. <https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy.aspx>

Addis, Jenny (October 17, 2012), Blindside to the Flip Side, AOTA.

McNamara, Bridget (28 February 2017) Combating Mental Health Stigma in Occupational Therapy. NGOT.


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